Scroll down for Lydia Autumn Keeler’s Pain-Free Birth Story, but here’s the birth story of my first daughter for some context: My Natural Traumatic Birth of Vienna Belle
“I do not care what kind of birth you have… A home birth, scheduled cesarean, epidural hospital birth, or if you birth alone in the woods next to a baby deer. I care that you had options, that you were supported in your choices and that you were respected.” –January Harshe
“You know where you find your birth power? In the silence. In the dark. In the water. Away from the crazy lights, conversation, and clinicians, you’ll go within. And there you’ll meet Her. The most incredible powerful life force that resides within you–exactly who you need to roar your baby out.” –Shalome Stone (Rock Star Birth Magazine)
The Birth of Lydia Autumn Keeler
I have given birth naturally twice now, to two beautiful daughters. Each birth shaped not only me as a woman but I am certain had a direct effect on my baby girls as well. The first birth with my daughter Vienna was in Vanderbilt Hospital with Vanderbilt Midwives. I’m going to be blunt here… It was traumatic. You can read that story here. When we got pregnant again 13 months later, I began listening to The Birth Hour podcast and found an incredible support team of empowering mommas, midwives, and doulas. I briefly told my story on their Facebook page and was validated for the first time since my daughter’s birth. They were shocked and angered for me–that I was not communicated with before the rectal intervention one, and two that a more gentle approach was not attempted first. Their validation was my first step to having what came to be a pain-free, euphoric, empowering birth with my second daughter.
With both of our girls, I have experienced what is called a “chemical pregnancy” the cycle before getting pregnant successfully. Basically the egg doesn’t implant in the womb and you miscarry within the first few weeks. It’s not commonly discussed because the loss happens so early (before many even realize they were pregnant) but it is definitely a loss and it hurts. When I got pregnant with our second after the chemical pregnancy, I knew immediately that it was going to stay and so I began preparing myself for the most empowering birth I could envision. I knew the key to that goal was going to be my support team. After the birth of my first, I discovered a Birth Center in Nashville called Baby + Company and I knew that it was our place and our people. My husband and I took a tour before we even started trying to get pregnant. The midwives there focus on the well being of the mother as a whole and have their facilities set up for a zen natural birth in a spa like setting. There are 4 labor rooms and each one is decked out with a large cozy bed, birth bar, squatting stool, birth balls, stand in shower, heated toilet with bidet, giant birthing tub, essential oils diffuser–I mean the works!! Every step of the prenatal process was tender and empowering. I never felt like I was going to a clinic or that I was a patient. I felt seen and cared for as a friend and fellow woman. It was glorious!
Meanwhile at home, I immersed myself in empowering positive birth stories. I gobbled them up! I easily listened to 7 or 8 birth stories a week. My favorite resources were The Birth Hour, Rockstar Birth Magazine, and The Birthful Podcast. Late in my third trimester I also read through Ina May Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth” cover to cover at least 3 times. And that was it. I didn’t buy hypnobirthing tracks or take any expensive classes. I just rewired my brain to expect differently of birth than what modern culture and sensationalized media has fed me in movies and on tv shows my whole life. By immersing myself in other women’s natural birth stories I began to think of birth not as a crisis but a powerful moment of womanhood. I began to think of contractions not as pain that had to be resisted, but as waves that I could dive deep into. I recognized in advance that all of the intensity of labor was not my body being injured but rather my body blooming open, like the lily flower. With every positive birth story, I felt my fear and trauma from my first birth slipping away from my memory. I felt a power and confidence rising up in my body. I was beginning to believe in myself again. I was beginning to trust that my body was entirely capable of birthing my baby without forceful intervention.
…AND THEN my positive birth bubble got popped when I found out at 32 weeks and then 34 weeks and then still at 36 weeks that my baby was in a “persistent transverse lie.” She was laying across my cervix as if lounging in a hammock with her head to my right and her feet to my left. In order to attempt a vaginal delivery the baby must be vertical, head down or at very least in a safe breech position with head up. Transverse is the one fetal position that cannot deliver vaginally. There’s just no way to get the baby out when they’re sideways. The only option if she remained transverse was to attempt a manual version or “ECV” where I would need to go to Vanderbilt, basically be prepped for emergency c-section if something were to go wrong during the procedure, and then the doctor would literally turn the baby from the outside of my womb into a head down position. However at the 36 week ultrasound we discovered that my placenta was anterior meaning it was attached to my uterus closer to the outside of my stomach instead of up against my back. This fact would make an ECV much riskier. Those 4 weeks of processing a potential c-section absolutely rocked my world and even tested my faith. My husband would say to me “Work as if it all depends on you, but pray as if it all depends on God.” Basically I did everything I could do to turn her. I mean everything. Spinning Babies, Webster chiropractic, ice packs near her head with a heating pad near my cervix, playing music down where I wanted her to turn, hand stands in the pool, acupuncture (not my favorite), and even moxibustion where my husband burned mugwort in circular and pecking motions around my little toes.
All the while we prayed and prayed asking God to intervene to turn our baby. The hardest and greatest lesson for me through that time was to pre-determine in my heart that no matter what happened I would still hold my faith and say, “God, you are good and worthy to be praised! I will serve you still.” I practiced this faithful fear clearing every time anxiety would arise. I would acknowledge the fear out loud and say “I am afraid that all this work and money spent is for nothing and I will still find myself getting put under for an emergency c-section. But even so, God, you are good and worthy to be praised! I will serve you still.” That work of pre-determining my response in any situation is something I will carry with me all my life. That is when this birth no longer became about redemption and instead became about trust. It was a defining moment.
From there I began listening not only to positive natural birth stories, but to ALL birth stories from loss to c-section to hospitalized with lots of interventions. I still knew how empowering and peaceful birth could be naturally, but I was no longer afraid to approach other versions of birth. I even prepared my plan for a gentle empowering c-section should that situation arise. Just as I had made peace with my girl being transverse, I went in for my 37 week check up. My baby was definitely still transverse when I checked her that morning so I laid on the bed discussing the c-section procedures at Vanderbilt. I asked my midwife to find out for me the name of the doctor that intervened so aggressively during the birth of my first to make sure that he would not be the person to perform the ECV. She pulled up my records and did some investigating and found out that he was a resident doctor and was no longer even at Vanderbilt. A wave of relief washed over me. Then she began taking my vitals. And finally she checked for position. She was quiet… and continued to feel around a few seconds more. Then she held my hand and said “Amber, your baby is head down.” I sobbed the biggest tears of relief in my life! And then I asked her to confirm vaginally. She checked and confirmed, “Yep, there’s a big hard head right where it should be!” I asked in disbelief, “So what does this mean?” And she said the sweetest words anyone could have said to me in that moment: “It means you can go home and enjoy the rest of your pregnancy in peace.” And boy did I! The next several weeks were some of the most peaceful of my life. My little family and I spent nearly every day enjoying each other outside playing our favorite game of disc golf and just basking in the relief! I continued the chiropractic care because I had fallen in love with the chiropractors there and wanted to stay in my best alignment for natural birth. But other than that, we just played and rested. And then the early labor started…
I started losing my mucus plug a little over 39 weeks. Then starting at 39 weeks day 5, I’d wake up in the middle of the night with light but regular birth waves that would keep me up through the night only to fizzle out by morning. I was already 3cm by 40weeks so when the waves finally lasted through the night and into the next day at 40weeks 6days I thought for sure it was the real thing and that I’d finally start progressing fast like I did with my first. We decided to labor during a round of disc golf, after which my waves were 6 minutes apart. I treated myself to a little pedicure after that and handed our baby off to my mother in law so we could head into the birth center.
Saying goodbye to my first baby was quite the emotional moment. The memory of our first years together and her growth from my newborn to toddler washed over me with so much joy for all the beauty that had been made and so much sadness for the approaching change. I had to let go of how things had been to make room for the new life that was coming to make our world even brighter. It was good but it was really hard. Maybe it was the emotion of saying goodbye, but my labor started to stall again. The waves spread back out to every 12 minutes again so my husband and I went back out to the disc golf course and played another round. That did the trick. We probably looked like a couple of crazy hippies out on the field, throwing discs and pausing every three minutes to hang on each other and ride a birth wave. It was so special and so fun though. I almost didn’t want to stop, but I knew as a second time mom with waves 3 minutes apart, I needed to head in to the Birth Center.
However when I got to Baby + Co at 7pm, my midwife confirmed that I was still only 4cm! I was shocked and a little deflated, but she was so relaxed about it all, she gave me a lot of peace. She suggested a little membrane sweep and then to go through the Miles Circuit exercises (which take about an hour and a half) to get baby into the best anterior position for birth. During that time we listened to some Brian Regan (our favorite comedian), and when the laughing was making my stomach cramp too much, we switched over to watching The Office. It was awesome. So chill. After all that my waves still weren’t picking up so my midwife suggested I go sit in the shower and let the hot water run over my chest. It was now 8:45pm. Nipple stimulation is known to help kickstart labor. So I brought the birth ball into the shower and sat where the water could hit my chest.
Sure enough, within just a few minutes the waves were picking up every two minutes, and they were getting intense. A few minutes later they were 50 seconds apart and I could no longer talk through them. At 9:05pm, my husband sent the text to my “Red Tent” birth team that I was in active labor and said now’s the time to come! Nathan and I were already in such a wonderful rhythm just the two of us. He selected the song “You & Me” by Dave Matthews and the tempo and lyrics were vibing with me so well I asked him to keep it on repeat. He came behind me in the shower and applied the most wonderful cool pressure on my back during the wave’s peak. I found early on that I really like intense pressure and ice on my back during the waves.
The idea of a “Red Tent” birth references back to Biblical hebrew culture when women would gather around each other to nurture and comfort one another during cycles and birth. My “Red Tent” team that were able to make it consisted of my two sisters in law, Anna & Sarah, and my spiritual sister Molly. The first to arrive was Molly. She is my oils guru and a natural caretaker. I was starting to enter labor land at that point so I didn’t much notice when she arrived. And as much as I was loving the shower rhythm we created, I wanted to switch things up so that I could return to the comfort of the shower if I ever got desperate for more relief. Amazingly though I never did. Over the next 3 hours I found a beautiful rhythm between the bed and the toilet. I asked my hubs to pick a new song and he chose “Over the Rainbow” by IZ. Again he nailed it on the head and I rode that song out on repeat until my daughter was born. I was so deep in labor land and so in tune with my body, I always knew when I needed to go sit on the toilet and go to the bathroom. It was great because I was always able to then clean myself up and flush in between waves. It kept things a little more modest, though that was my last concern in the moment.
On the bed, my favorite position rhythm was to sit on the ball during the rest periods and then when a wave would come I’d stand and lean over a peanut ball on the bed and rock through each wave, breathing in deep and high as if my breath was launching me into the sky. During all of this time, my birth team was my rock! My husband so beautifully directed each of the girls to let them know what I liked and when. As they would try new things I was also able to let them know what I liked and what I didn’t, so that eventually we all had it down to a dance. The dance went like this: I would nap between waves (I mean literally fall asleep, sometimes for up to 10 minutes at a time). Then before I was even fully awake, I would squeeze the hand I was holding. That’s how they knew a wave was coming. They’d all get into their places as the wave arose me from my sleep. Then an oil would be placed under my nose. Oh I loved the oils! My favorites were Ginger (which eased nausea & is considered the oil of empowerment and Doterra AromaTouch, which is the oil of relaxation). At the same time, someone would apply cold ice packs or roll cold soda cans across my back while someone else applied hard pressure to my lower back and hips with this plastic spike ball, wood bowls, or just their hands. They also regularly presented me with a glass of water and straw to help me stay hydrated, which was wonderful and helped keep up my energy. I also loved Doterra Deep Blue rub on my back and belly during and in between waves. And the head scratcher! I loved the head scratcher in between waves when I wasn’t sleeping. Near the end, I just wanted to lay in a side lie position on the bed, but the dance was always the same. I literally never felt pain or fear–not for one moment during the labor–because I always knew my support team was in place. I felt that we were all in it together. We’d all play our parts in the dance and then I could rest again. It was beautiful! I didn’t even have the thought of wanting it to end. I had gone so deep into myself and my power as a woman. At most I would say to myself internally, “I surrender…” or “This is birthing a baby!”
UPDATE: In response to this story a soon to be momma asked me to describe the waves if they weren’t painful. This is what I wrote: “It’s hard to describe but thinking back I’d say the waves were cold peaks, like that moment you jump in icey water and it takes your breath away. I found that as long as I breathed in deeply and slowly up the peak, the chill was only momentary and the warmth returned.”
At around 12:40am, I started making pushy sounds during the waves. My midwife asked to check me which I was totally fine with. When she came back around to my face, I remember her sweet smile as she said, “Well Amber, you’re 10cm and completely open. You can start pushing out your baby whenever you’re ready.” That was the first moment I came out of labor land, just to process what she was telling me, and I literally started laughing out loud! I said “This is awesome!” I couldn’t believe that I had just gone through a complete labor to 10cm without a moment of pain or fear! At that point I asked my team to fill up the tub so I could birth my baby gently into the world through water. The tub was ready just a few minutes later and my husband assisted me from the bed to the tub. I found a position on my knees facing him with my chest draped over the side of the tub that felt the most right. There I stayed as the waves turned into pushes. This was my first moment of fear. Not pain, but concern. I had heard of women having the most euphoric labors but still tearing pretty badly during the pushing. I could tell my pushes were so strong, they were just going to eject my baby out all at once and I became very concerned in that moment about tearing. After about 15 minutes of pushing I started to feel the ring of fire and at that point I asked for the nitrous oxide thinking that a few breaths would help take the edge off just enough for me to slowly ease her out instead of shooting her out in one big push.
By the time the gas arrived 5 minutes later I could feel her head beginning to emerge–little out, little in, little more out, and back in–exactly how you want it to go so that the perineum has time to gently stretch. Amazingly, her head was already crowning by the time my waters finally broke. It was taking everything I had to hold back the pushes and I didn’t think I could hold back anymore. Then something truly trippy happened! After two breaths of the oxygen, my body’s natural pain-blocking endorphins combined with the nitrous oxide (which is supposed to just take the “edge” off) and suddenly I was floating in a warm dark ocean of God’s love and pure bliss! Haha! Hang with me here. I could hear everything and feel every single motion of my baby’s body slipping out of my own, but in slow motion! I could literally hear my husband affirming me saying “Yes… yes…” at the same time as hearing my midwife say “I see her eyes…” at the same time as hearing my sisters cheers of delight and celebration… at the same time as (and this is the part that makes me cry without fail) hearing God whisper to my heart that he saw me as worthy of such a beautiful moment. I literally heard the thought come from him to my mind saying “I love you this much!” It was as if the original curse of Eve was broken in my spirit… The curse that hung over me most of my life that lead me to beat myself up for every sin and assume that every bad thing that happened to me was God’s punishment and proof of his true disdain for me. Those mind chains of self-condimnation broke and time moved so slow in that place that I literally processed my freedom and what felt like a new birth in my spirit at the same time as I was processing the new birth of my beautiful daughter leaving my womb.
This is going to sound morbid and hopefully not too blasphemous, but I really believe I got a taste of the beautiful moment of transition from life on earth to death to new life in heaven in that moment. What felt to me as an eternity was actually barely even two minutes in real time. Then I heard my midwife say “Reach down and catch your baby.” I reached down to grab her and all at once, I left that warm ocean and was completely present in the current moment. It was total euphoria grabbing my daughter’s warm slippery body and bringing her straight to my chest. Immediately I exclaimed, “THAT is how God designed birth to be!” Over and over again as I held on to and admired my baby girl I kept saying it, “That is how God designed birth to be! That was amazing! That was perfect! Wow!” Our beautiful daughter, Lydia Autumn Keeler, was born gently into the water at 1:01am weighing 6lb 13oz, eyes wide open, quietly looking around, taking in her new world in total peace. My husband and I celebrated with kisses and tears and I felt more pure love in that moment than I even knew was possible, surrounded by my sisters and my man and my baby. I laid there in the tub for just a minute or two, admiring her and admiring her beautiful blue umbilical chord (something else I never got to see with my first).
…And I did NOT tear! Not even a little scratch! Nothing! So I was easily able to climb out of the tub and walk over to the bed to lay down and deliver the placenta. As with my first, I did have some hemorrhaging so I got a shot of pitocin and cytotec. I also had a small lobe of retained placenta which my midwife retrieved gently and respectfully. The calm joy of that moment with my husband laying next to me and my baby laying on my chest made even the discomfort of those procedures feel like nothing. Once I was all good and the bleeding eased, and my girl successfully latched for her first feeding, I handed our daughter over to my husband and sisters for some skin to skin and cuddles and went to take a shower. I stood in the darkness with the hot water washing over me, standing on my own two feet with no help, washing my hair in amazed disbelief at the gift I had just been given and all I could do was thank God and smile! After that, my husband, my baby and I all climbed in to the birth center bed and snuggled up for the night. At around 8am, the midwives came back in to check on us and walk us through the protocols to head back home. I was feeling amazing! A little sore but not in any pain.
As of today, I am 10 days postpartum. My abs are a little sore, mostly I think from the hard work of labor …and maybe from overdoing it at home with my toddler those first few days. Whoops. Our little Lydia has been an absolute delight. Soooo easy to console. So aware! I can tell that a gentle water birth had a big effect on her calm demeanor. She trusts her world and her people. I can feel it when she looks at me. I feel her peace. Engorgement is no fun of course, neither is that one pesky hemorrhoid, but happy to say 10 days out all that is beginning ease as well. Lydie-bug is already a full pound over her birth weight and mom and baby are healthy as can be. Now to find our new rhythm as a family of 4! As they say, the challenges never get easier, they just get different… and you get better at handling them! Ooh rah mommas!